A group of young women from countries that have a history of repressing females got a pep talk yesterday from a former first lady who is now one of America's top leaders.
"All over the world women still face obstacles to cultural and legal participation," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the women. "The world cannot miss out on the talents and contributions of half the population."
Clinton spoke during the start of a two-week pilot program taking place at Wellesley College. The first Women in Public Service Institute is helping 50 women, mostly from Middle Eastern countries, network and learn new tools needed to continue being leaders in their country, organizers said.
Those tools are imperative, institute organizers said, because women continue to be underrepresented. Clinton said that about 17 percent of those elected to Congress are women, which is lower than the 20 percent global average of women in parliamentary seats.
Madeleine Albright, a former secretary of state who, like Clinton, is a Wellesley alumna, is participating in the training sessions.
"When women participate in public service it strengthens democracy," Albright said.
But both Clinton and Albright acknowledged that, despite the Arab Spring revolutions, it would be difficult for the women attending the institute to easily incorporate what they learn into the workings of their country's government.
"There is no one model or path. Ultimately our ... delegates will know best what to see and how to move forward in their own cities," Albright said.
Naheed Ahmadi Farid, 27, the youngest member of the Afghanistan parliament, said she was satisfied with Clinton's support of her country. However, she added that she is not completely confident that what she learns at the institute will make a difference in her country when foreign troops leave in a few years.
Farid said her country is plagued by corruption and rigged elections and that many of the institute's participants live in countries where there is much violence against women.
1. Jackcilia Salathiel Ebere Ginanan was appointed the state minister of labor, public service and human resource development of South Sudan in 2010. Last year she helped form the Women's New Horizon community organization. Before that, when she was 18, she had to flee to Congo when fighting in her country reached close to her home. She was able to continue her education Uganda.
2. Hala Fahmi Jamal is a businesswoman involved in numerous community service associations in Bahrain. She serves as the chairwoman of On Island Tours, an American women's association. Several organizations and leaders, including the minister of development, have recognized her work.
3. Naheed Ahmadi Farid is, at 27, the youngest member of Afghanistan's parliament. She is seeking to form a new party that brings more unity and more female elected officials to the nation. Growing up under Taliban rule, she said the government burned her school during an attack on her city.